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China Approves Building DAMS On Brahmaputra – Free PDF Download


 

  • Even as Chinese and Indian troops are disengaging rapidly in Ladakh, Beijing has taken a decision that, if implemented will, one day, do a hundred times more damage to India than a war in Ladakh can do.
  • This is to lift a decade-long embargo on hydropower ‘projects in the lower reaches of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) river in Tibet.
  • This anodyne declaration will revive the most dangerous, and unnecessary hydroelectric project ever contemplated by any government on this planet.
  • Among the 40 dams China intends to build in the Tibetan portion of the Brahmaputra basin, 20,  expected to generate 60,000 MW of power, will be on the Yarlung Tsangpo itself.
  • Nine of these will be monster projects that will generate 40,000 MW of power at the ‘Great Bend’, a few kilometres upstream of the India-China border, where the river makes a huge ‘U’ turn and falls precipitously from 3,500 m on the Tibetan Plateau to 700 m in the lush plains of Arunachal Pradesh, in just a few kilometres.

  • Beijing has claimed in the past that the dams will not infringe on any of India’s (and Bangladesh’s) rights as lower riparian states, because the projects will be ‘run-of-the-river‘ projects that will deny no water to Assam or Bangladesh.
  • This has been contested by many analysts who have pointed out that the storage created behind the 11 existing dams is already sufficient enough to deny much-needed water to Bangladesh and India during a drought.
  • But haggling over riparian rights will divert attention from the far bigger threat that a hydropower project at the Great Bend will pose downstream.

A history of severe earthquakes

  • This is the threat of earthquakes. The Great Bend sits at the meeting point of the Himalayas and two other mountain chains and is right on top of one of the most unstable onshore seismic zones in the world, one that has seen five of the most severe earthquakes in recorded history in just over a hundred years.
  • The April 2015 earthquake in Nepal registered 7.9 on the Richter scale and cost more than 8,000 lives. But prior to it, there had been four mammoth quakes, measuring 7.8 to 8.7 on the Richter scale within a span of 53 years between 1897 and 1950.
  • The first and last occurred just 53 years apart in the region immediately south and west of the Great Bend in the Brahmaputra.
  • The 1897 earthquake measured 8 on the Richter scale (equivalent to the explosion of 7.6 million tonnes of dynamite, or a medium-sized hydrogen bomb) and caused widespread damage and loss of life in what was then called upper Assam.
  • It was caused by an immense build-up of pressure as the Indian tectonic plate pressed against the Shillong Plate, which is a part of the far older Eurasian Plate.
  • It occurred when the entire Indian plate suddenly shifted by 11 to 16 m as it dived under the Shillong Plate over a stretch of 110 km along what is known as the Oldham fault. This is one of the largest tectonic shifts recorded anywhere in the world so far.
  • Why, after keeping it on ice for a decade, has China decided to revive this project now?
  • It cannot be a need for more power because, by 2015, China had 300,000 MW of new generating capacity that it did not need, and was forced to lower the capacity utilisation in its existing plants to below 50%, in order to give the new plants room in which to survive.
  • Western and Indian defence analysts have assumed that it is to show, and keep, India in its place after the confrontations at Doklam in 2017 and last year in Ladakh.
  • But if that were so it would be an extremely expensive and imprecise way of doing so, because even in 2008, the estimated cost of the Great Bend project was $62 billion.
  • A far more plausible reason is that President Xi Jinping has allowed their revival for the same reason that he floated One Belt One Road (renamed the Belt Road Initiative) in 2014: as a desperate move to prevent mass layoffs in industry after the two-year, 3 trillion Yuan ($586 billion) fiscal stimulus programme that began in 2008 had run out of control, and invested 24 trillion Yuan in five years.
  • This had created huge excess capacities in every branch of the engineering, machine building and heavy industries, which suddenly found themselves with no more orders, in 2014.
  • The main, although not sole, purpose of China’s shift of its investment priorities to developing its western region in the 12th Plan, and Xi’s launch of the BRI in 2013, was to create the demand for these industries so that he could avoid a massive retrenchment of labour – the one thing that the Party had to do to avoid losing the Mandate of Heaven.
  • The main, although not sole, purpose of China’s shift of its investment priorities to developing its western region in the 12th Plan, and Xi’s launch of the BRI in 2013, was to create the demand for these industries so that he could avoid a massive retrenchment of labour – the one thing that the Party had to do to avoid losing the Mandate of Heaven.
  • The last decade has shown Beijing that the capacity of the western region to avoid investment is limited and, thanks in part to India’s refusal to join, the BRI has made a slow start.
  • This seems to be one, if not the main, reason for the government’s revival of the Great Bend and associated projects on the lower reaches of the Yarlung-Tsangpo and for the announcement to extend its high-speed rail network to Tibet in the next few years.

India’s move ???

  • India’s riposte, that it will build a ‘parallel’ project to the one China has announced, does not make sense.
  • This is not a competition between adolescents to show who has the stronger muscles. Building a second huge dam in the region will only double the risk to the downstream population.
  • Indians cannot live forever with 50 billion cubic metres of stored water hanging 3,000 metres above their heads like a sword of Damocles. If the nine dams are built, it is as certain as the rising of the sun that a day will come when another mega-earthquake will strike the area and unleash a devastating flood upon upper Assam.

 
 

 

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